This is what the Lord GOD showed me: behold, he was forming locusts when the latter growth was just beginning to sprout, and behold, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings. 2 When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said,
“O Lord GOD, please forgive! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” 3 The LORD relented concerning this; “It shall not be,” said the LORD.
4 This is what the Lord GOD showed me: behold, the Lord GOD was calling for a judgment by fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. 5 Then I said,
“O Lord GOD, please cease! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” 6 The LORD relented concerning this; “This also shall not be,” said the Lord GOD.
7 This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,
“Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them; 9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
This passage begins a new section in the book. This section contains some prophetic visions, and we want to look at the first three of these. The visions are given to and through Amos to emphasize the fact that judgment would shortly come upon Israel. They are, so to speak, the final warning. But sadly, Israel would not listen to this warning. The visions in these verses demonstrate the sovereignty of our God in three different ways.
Comment: We are acting in a spiritually wise manner when we listen to God’s warnings, repent and turn back to the Lord.
I. God’s sovereign purpose
A. The passage clearly teaches that God had a purpose for Israel, that he was pursuing that purpose, and that his purpose would be accomplished (7:8). God had a purpose of judgment, revealed from the birth of the covenant nation, to punish the people if they disobeyed. In the old covenant everything hung upon the “if you obey….”
1. There is a seeming problem in this, for the passage also says that “the Lord relented” (7:3, 6). How can the Lord carry out his purpose if he relents?
2. We see this same kind of statement made in other passages (Ex 32:14; Jer 18:5-10). How can this be consistent with statements about God’s unchanging purpose (Num 23:19; Is 14:24; 46:9-11)?
B. A two-part answer to this apparent difficulty
1. God reveals himself in human terms to help us understand him and his ways.
a. Since the Creator is so much greater than we are, it is necessary for God to communicate with us in this manner. Is 55:8-9
b. For this reason, we find statements like “the arm of the Lord,” though God is spirit.
2. God reveals himself in this manner to show his patience and mercy. God is saying that he is not impulsive or capricious. He delights to show mercy, but his mercy has met with consistent refusal.
Illustration: Adults sometimes find that young children of their friends might be initially frightened of them. So what do you do? You do something nice for the child in order to encourage him or her to think nicely of you.
Illustration: In the workplace, employers or employees may have problems with each other. In either case, you usually hear the complaint, “Look at all the things I have done for him or her!”
Point: Statements like “the Lord relented” must be seen in the larger context of his sovereignty. God has a larger purpose that he is working out, and in order to do so in the way that he wants to, he apparently relents or changes his mind in some matters, while in fact he is accomplishing his larger purpose.
II. God’s sovereignty and prayer
A. In the Bible we encounter many commands and encouragements to prayer.
1. In this passage we see Amos praying to God for mercy on Israel. Given the fact of God’s purpose already considered, we can wonder, “Since God is sovereign and does all his holy will, why should I bother to pray?”
Comment: The first difficulty about prayer, which most fail to consider, is the nature of prayer itself. Is it a list of demands from sinners that are forced upon a fully holy Creator, or is prayer something else? Since I have already discussed this on various occasions, I move on.
2. Before we consider the answer, it might be helpful to consider this: Though the people through whom God gave the Scriptures may have wrestled with this problem, it did not deflect them from acknowledging God’s sovereignty or from praying. To fall into to the error of rejecting God’s absolute sovereignty or the error of ceasing to pray are not Biblical options. Theology can create problems that the Bible does not!
Point: Our thoughts must be kept within the boundaries of the Scriptures.
B. A partial answer to this apparent difficulty
1. This passage demonstrates that prayer is an effective part of the plan of God (7:3, 6) – “So the Lord relented.”
Other Examples: Gen 20:7; 2 Ki 6:17; Mt 26:41; Mk 9:28-29; Jn 16:24; Js 4:2b-3
2. Prayer is one of the means to God’s appointed goal. In various situations God will use various “second causes” to fulfill his purposes. In some situations he might use only one “second cause” or even none at all. We cannot put God in a box and demand that he work the same way in every situation.
Illustration: In situations of financial need, one time God might meet the need through providing a gift, and in another he might provide a better paying job, or in some other way.
a. Consider the example of Elijah’s prayers about rain.
b. Consider the examples of the prayers of Moses and Samuel (Jer 15:1; Ex 32:9-14; 1 Sm 7:7-13).
Comment: “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance but laying hold of his willingness.” [Luther]
3. In this text we see the importance of prayer in connection with God’s mercy to people. We cannot save or deliver, but God can, and therefore we must ask God.
III. God’s sovereignty and judgment
A. God has the ability to use various instruments of judgment. Although he uses second causes, the Lord is the One judging.
1. Judgment through the means of locusts (7:1)
2. Judgment through the means of fire (7:2)
3. Judgment through the means of sword (7:9)
B. God’s sovereign judgment is according to a true standard (7:7-8).
1. The importance of building plumb and square
Illustration: Our parsonage in Rural Grove was neither plumb nor square.
2. Israel had been built the proper way. The Lord had given them just laws and leaders to guide them in his ways. The problem was with the people (cf. Heb 8:3ff?).
C. God proclaimed a limit to the delay in punishment.
1. Failure to repent during a delay sent by God increases our responsibility. Rm 2:4-5
Comment: America has had a long opportunity to repent after 9/11, but has become worse instead of repentant. Instead of humbling herself before God, America is suppressing the knowledge of God even more. God may not use the locusts or the fire on America, but will he use the sword? Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
2. Since they had been unrepentant, there was no escape (7:8b). “I will spare them no longer.” God warns us that mercy will not always be available. Consider Abraham’s plea for Sodom (Gen 18:22-33) or God’s words to Jeremiah (Jer 7:16; 11:14; 14:10-12; 15:1). The same is true in the new covenant (Heb 10:26-31; 1 Jn 5:16-17).
Apply: Tonight is the time to turn back to the Lord. How is your relationship with the Lord?
Pastor Dave Frampton
When push comes to shove there is usually nothing more satisfying than for a saint of God to have at his or her disposal a source of biblically sound instruction in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The faithful and spiritually profitable labors of Dave Frampton are here at CMC to be a blessing. Bible teacher and student alike will profit much from his labor in the God’s Word. Visit Newtown Square Baptist Church.